National Design Center, Singapore

Hey guys! I was in Singapore recently for a hotel review, but I can’t blog about it yet (it’s embargoed until December, when my article is published for work). What I CAN write about, though, is the places we went to visit during our stay. One of these is the National Design Center in the Bras Basah-Bugis district.

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The NDC is housed in the former 120-year-old St Anthony’s Convent – though, judging from its well-maintained structure and spick-and-span interior/exterior, you’d think it was opened just yesterday. Inside, visitors will find two galleries and three design labs, namely the IDA Labs, the Materials Design Lab and the Prototyping Lab.

We were led around by the affable Mr P, who guided us through different sections of the centre while offering some interesting insights on exhibits. 🙂

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As mentioned previously, the old pre-WWII Art Deco building used to be a school, so the layout is like a school block with a courtyard in the middle (now an exhibition space). During our visit, they were running a special exhibition in celebration of 50 years of Singapore-Japan diplomatic ties with Asia’s biggest Rody toy collection. These are cutesy inflatable ponies (? horses?) with short stubby legs, and they come in a variety of colours.

I don’t know why these were chosen to represent Sg-Jpn ties, since the Rody toy brand is from Italy. Mr P couldn’t answer me either lol.

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The one on the left represents Singapore, and the one on the right represents Japan.

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After awhile, it does get creepy, the way they’re all staring at you… .__.

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Some of the center’s staff busy rearranging the toys.

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We next stopped by at the Prototyping Lab – a maker space where SMEs, startups or anyone, basically, can rent a space and facilities to create prototypes or work on projects. Some of the stuff they have include laser making machines, 3-D Printers, CNC routers, and a host of other tools for carpentry, electronics ,and more. They also offer prototyping assistance schemes to help startups commercialise their inventions, as well as apprenticeship programmes.

I think it’s great that there are such avenues available. It’s no wonder Singapore became a first world country in a matter of 50 years – they genuinely appreciate local talents, and offer them the means to achieve their dreams and realities. Having a maker culture also encourages youths to be innovative and to think outside the box. This is something that Malaysia sorely needs. We have too many spoon-fed kids in our education system.

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The lab wasn’t very large but it was bustling with activity. There was a leather shoe workshop being conducted in one corner, while in the backroom some makers were working on electronic circuitry.

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The space was comfortably cluttered with an assortment of past projects, such as these 3D printed items, displayed on racks around the lab.

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We hopped on to the aptly named Kapok, a retail outlet-cum-cafe selling the most hipster sht imaginable clothing, souvenirs and other lifestyle items by indie labels and designers. Apart from being really cool and trendy, some of the products are legit great conversation starters, like this book-lamp. Open the ‘pages’ to turn the lights on, and simply close it to turn it off. Of course, the price was really ‘great’ too. Emphasis on the inverted commas.

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How about some iPhone covers made from real marble? Granted, you’ll have an actual stone weighing down your pocket, but it’s a nice thing to be able to tell your friends that it’s genuine.

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Olivia Burton watches for the ladies.

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Accessories from local label Stale and Co. 

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Cafe area is just next to where you can shop for stuff.

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I’d have loved to buy something from the shop, but unfortunately the cheapest items were at least 15SGD, and when converted to our measley, terrible-performing ringgit, that would set me back about RM45, which can buy me a week’s worth of cheap lunches back home. So nah.

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Moving on, we came to another exhibition titled Death by Design, which explores the role of design in death. I was really impressed – this was a final year project by students from the Division of Industrial Design, National University of Singapore – but it was of excellent quality. These students are on to great things ! 🙂

Death is often a taboo subject, and cultural aspects of honouring the dead are rarely changed or touched upon. But as we live in a modernising world, many of these issues are cropping up: the need for space to bury our dead, for example. The exhibition explores the possibilities of using design to solve these issues, challenging the norms of what people have been doing for centuries.

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In Chinese culture, for example, we burn paper offerings of hell money and gold ingots for our dead – a practice that is not very environmentally friendly. The solution for this, as explored by the exhibition, is a new paper design, which burns without leaving any residue behind.

On the topic of making a will, the exhibition suggested that it would be possible to leave ‘e-wills’ in the future, without the need for paper. The will or messages for our loved ones can be sent to the recipient, even after death, at a set time.

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The IDA Labs was next on the list. Like the Protoyping center, this is also a maker’s space where SMEs or individuals can come together to discuss, create and invent. There’s a large workshop-like area for working, complete with loads of 3D printers, as well as a classroom-like space.

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Pokemon-shaped 3D printouts. I’d pay money to buy these 🙂

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When a button was pressed, the thing started rotating and because the models are set at different positions, it gave the illusion of movement.

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The Materials Design Lab is where they keep a catalogue of new materials created to suit our ever changing needs in a modern world. This section is very hands-on as visitors can touch and feel samples. We had brain fart moments whenever we saw something that looked really hard and sturdy, and they ended up being as light as a feather.

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Last but not least was the exhibition dubbed Fifty Years of Singapore Design, which chronicles the journey of the country’s design evolution: everything from clothing to buildings, products, promotional government materials and even furniture. The iconic Singapore Airlines uniform was also on display (above). There were also posters explaining how the country’s stamp and money design has changed over the years.

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Mr P telling us about another iconic Singaporean item – the hawker stall chair. It looks simple, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. For example, the chairs ‘legs’ jut out for more stability, and the center has a small hole so that rainwater would run down without having to wipe it dry. It also allows users to chain it easily together to prevent theft.

“There’s one more thing you can use it for,” Mr P quips, motioning with an upside down gesture. “Put a plastic bag and you get a portable trash can!”

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I left a little wiser about the design machinations of Singapore, and how it has shaped this very young but progressive nation.

The NDC doesn’t get as much hype as some of the republic’s more popular attractions, like Marina Bay Sands or Sentosa, but if you’re ever in the Bugis area and you enjoy learning about design, history and culture, I suggest a visit. 🙂

National Design Center Singapore 

111 Middle Road
National Design Centre
Singapore 188969

Opening hours: 9AM – 9PM (daily)

designsingapore.org

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Author: Luna

Bibliophile/foodie. Drop me a line at erisgoesto@gmail.com

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